Safety is Volvo’s thing. The firm has a proud history of safety-based innovations, most notably the three-point seatbelt – which it opened the patent for so other firms could use it. It’s estimated Volvo innovations have saved a million lives.
The new Volvo EX90 features a raft of new safety tech that could prove more significant than the seatbelt. The problem is that it’s much less tangible: it’s all to do with the car’s super-complex sensors, processors and software systems.
The EX90 features 16 external ultrasonic sensors, eight cameras and five radar systems – and it will be the first production car to feature a lidar, a laser-based scanner that can detect and identify tiny objects from up to 250m away. And that’s all run by a superfast Nvidia Drive computing system that can process 254 TOPS – that’s trillion operations per second.
But what does that mean? Well, Volvo says they will eventually allow for true ‘unsupervised driving’ – but more significant is how those sensors will work from launch to aid driver safety.
The EX90 can respond to an object detected by the lidar in a tenth of a second, potentially helping motorists avoid obstacles they haven’t even seen yet.
In further good news for drivers, it’s also claimed that the accuracy of lidar mapping will also prevent cars overzealously applying autonomous emergency braking systems when there’s nothing ahead of you.
The claim is that the EX90’s lidar-led safety systems could reduce serious accidents by up to 20%. If it proves true, that is a huge leap forward. The challenge is showcasing that: if you’re involved in a crash, you’ll feel the seatbelt protect you. But if Volvo’s new safety tech does its thing, it could prevent an accident without you even noticing.
The EX90 isn’t cheap: at £100k, it now sits above the likes of BMW and Mercedes rivals – and some of the cost is driven by that expensive lidar kit. The cliche is that you can’t put a price on safety. But if buyers won’t really notice something, will they be willing to pay for it?